The time is now: The rise of real-time marketing

I’m the sort of sports fan who loves it when a drunken streaker runs on to the cricket field or a rogue pigeon stops play at Wimbledon, so you can imagine my excitement when Uruguay forward Luis Suarez took a cannibalistic turn for the worse and bit into the shoulder of Italian player Giorgio Chiellini during this week’s World Cup game.

And I wasn’t the only one to react; social media was quickly buzzing with witty one-liners, images and memes from brands looking to score with this real-time marketing opportunity.

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I’ve noticed a few groans and grumbles from some who don’t think brands should align themselves with such unsportsmanlike conduct, or who think the jokes were old and tired before they were even sent out. But I am not one of these people.

I love real-time marketing. It makes me more excited than those tennis playing pigeons.

Companies, unsurprisingly, want to protect their brands and reputations. All too often in the marketing world though, this can lead to potentially brilliant ideas being shot down and creative campaigns being delayed. Spontaneity, personality and resourcefulness lose out to predictability, brand guidelines and planning.

Taking advantage of real-time marketing opportunities doesn’t mean throwing out the rule book all together and doing something so ridiculously controversial that you ruin your business’ reputation forever. What it does mean is trusting your marketing, advertising and PR teams to be able to make a call, produce creative content and present it to the world in a way which makes your target audiences sit up, take note, and smile.

I completely understand why many are hesitant and nervous about real-time marketing, but it would be great if more businesses were braver, acted quicker and took advantage of these opportunities.

And it’s not just the companies that took a bite of the recent Suarez action that we can learn from, there are some other good examples that have caught my attention over the last couple of years:

After photographs of Prince Harry playing strip billiards in Las Vegas were leaked in the press, Lynx took out an ad in the Sun on Sunday, apologising if it had been a consequence of ‘the Lynx Effect’.

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German lingerie company, Blush Berlin, took advantage of the Edward Snowden scandal by cheekily name dropping him into one its ads.

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And my personal favourite – when a man named Thomas Cook asked the holiday company that he shared a name with for a free holiday as compensation for being ‘ridiculed’ for his name, he got turned down. But then rival travel firm lowcostholidays.com spotted an opportunity, swooped in and saved the day. Not only a brilliant example of real-time marketing, but also brand one-upmanship.

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Instagram ads – should brands bother?

Instagram has announced plans to expand its advertising to the UK later this year, having already introduced ads to its American users last November.

The ads will take the same format as a typical Instagram picture, except for the ‘sponsored’ symbol in the top right hand corner. Users will be able to hide ads they don’t like, providing feedback on why they weren’t of interest.

It’s no surprise that Instagram is going down the advertising route – especially after it was bought by Facebook in 2012 – but with so many brands already using Instagram successfully through genuine engagement with users, how effective will advertising really be?

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Levi’s is one of the first brands to try out Instagram ads. Instagram asserts that advertisers “in some cases [are] well above the ad industry’s average for performance”, but Levi’s already has a thriving Instagram account with over 252,000 followers and images regularly receiving over 5,000 likes and hundreds of comments. So how much more value could advertising offer?

Yes, Levi’s will be able to pay to be put in front of potential new audiences, people that don’t currently already follow the brand, but with users able to hide ads they don’t want to see it might not be the best use of money.

And it’s not just the big companies that can utilise Instagram effectively without splashing out on ads. Regardless of size, budget or resources available, all businesses can use Instagram as a visual tease for new and existing customers. They can showcase their products, introduce the world to the people behind the business, flaunt their personality, increase brand awareness and drive people to their website.

Take new start up company, The Gifted Few. Established in September 2013, the vintage and industrial lighting and furniture retailer has used Instagram to show its target audience its latest stock, how the business is growing, what the team has been up to and where they get their inspiration from.

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The team is steadily building up its online community, picking up anywhere between 50 and 100 new followers a month depending on how much it posts new content and engages with other users. As well as directing people to its eBay shop and own website, the business has achieved direct sales through people emailing it after seeing items of interest for sale on Instagram.

Aaron Andrews, creative director at The Gifted Few, said: “For us, Instagram is the most exciting social media platform as it gives us a great opportunity to reach an audience that isn’t just made up of people already following you. It also gives us the chance to share what we do without just selling things. It helps us to tell our story in a much more personal way, which in turn engages the potential customers and makes them feel like part of the brand, one of The Gifted Few, if you will.

“With the correct use of hashtags, our brand is reaching new potential customers every day who may not have known about us otherwise. We are also keen to push what we do to a younger audience than the traditional antiques buying public and Instagram is the perfect way to find this demographic and teach them that antiques are just as fun, practical and fashionable as your local neighbourhood flat pack shop.”

Commenting on whether he would consider using Instagram ads, Aaron concluded: “It’s not something I would consider immediately, but as the business grows I may consider it for certain marketing pushes – like if we had a sale on or a new product range. It all comes down to price versus return on investment. However, I’ve used Facebook ads in the past and wasn’t impressed – it just seemed like an extra expense and wasn’t as beneficial to us as our day-to-day use of social media.”

It will be interesting to see how much Instagram ads cost and whether there are any incentives for small or new businesses to part with their money. Overall though, I’m not sure how paying for advertising will be more effective than spending the time building up your own online community.

Instagram is an easy, creative channel for businesses to engage with target audiences and earn their interest and support. The general feedback from the public on Facebook ads hasn’t been particularly positive, and unless Instagram can offer both businesses and consumers something extra and beneficial through its advertising, it runs the same risk.

In pictures: Chester Cathedral

A lovely bank holiday Monday spent strolling around Chester. In between the shopping and eating, we popped into the cathedral. A stunning building with lots of atmosphere.

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Lip service: the secret to a successful viral video

It’s old news now, but I still love the First Kiss video and it’s a brilliant example of how creative, quality content can be extremely powerful. The video, showing strangers kissing, has been viewed over 82 million times. Yes, you read that correctly – 82 million times.

When it first transpired the video featured actors and models, and that it had actually been created by clothing company Wren, there was a fair amount of public outcry. People didn’t realise they were being advertised to. They felt cheated.

But they clearly didn’t feel too put out by this clever piece of marketing, as a week after the video was released traffic to the Wren website increased by 14,000 per cent and sales went up by 13,600 per cent.

In an article, the founder and creative director of Wren revealed the secrets to the video’s success. The magic formula? It’s a combination of emotion, human touch, subtlety and above all else, creating quality content that connects people.

Great Manchester Run 2014

This time last week, I was celebrating after completing the Great Manchester Run. It was a glorious day, which meant it was very sweaty and tough 10k! As usual, the crowds and entertainment along the way were great. Roll on next year’s challenge!

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When is the best time to post on social media?

One of the challenges of social media is that if you blink, chances are you’ve missed it. There is only a small window of opportunity to get your message in front of your target audience. If you’ve ever wondered when you should be posting content, then wonder no more - Fannit.com has created an infographic highlighting the best and worst times to post on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ and your blog. 

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PR stunts: Does it pay to be an April Fool?

I remember coming home from school one day and switching on Newsround to find the presenter talking about a new ride at a theme park. They were going to build a rollercoaster, which went underwater and there would be SHARKS SWIMMING AROUND YOU. I was both shocked and thrilled by just how dangerous it sounded. This was the most amazing ride I had ever heard of.

My mum had to explain to me that no, they weren’t going to be putting visitors’ lives at risk by dunking them into shark infested water, it was in fact an April Fools’ joke. WHAT?! BUT IT’S ON THE NEWS. THE NEWS PEOPLE WOULDN’T LIE TO YOU. LOOK – THEY EVEN HAVE PICTURES OF WHAT IT’S GOING TO LOOK LIKE!! (Yes, I was a gullible child.)

Over the years, brands and businesses have been increasingly jumping on the April Fools’ bandwagon – and this year has been no different. From a ban on selfies to an edible pizza box, the media has been full of unbelievable headlines. But why do businesses pull these pranks on us?

It shows personality: Boring, faceless, money-grabbing corporations don’t interest consumers. But if businesses can make us smile and show they can have a bit of fun, it helps to humanise them. We warm to them in ways which could, perhaps, make us more susceptible to future marketing messages.

It reinforces key messages: While April Fools’ PR stunts are made up for laughs, they can often reinforce brands’ key messages. Take BMW, for example. This year it released the BMW ZZZ Series cot, where babies are lulled to sleep thanks to the humming engine, and last year it launched a Royal Baby-inspired pram. Although completely fabricated, these news stories have connotations with quality manufacturing and luxury products we aspire to own.

It is expected: Just as we expect the big retailers to go all out with their Christmas adverts, we have now grown to expect businesses to try and pull the wool over our eyes when 1st April comes around. And businesses know this; they seem to try and get away with bigger and better jokes and pranks to amuse and entertain us.

It gets us talking: Businesses want to be talked about, they want people to know their name and what products or services they offer. Effective PR stunts can bring the brand in question to the attention of its target audience and get them talking.

Jonathan Yeo at the Lowry

Over the weekend, me and my trusty clan (my fiancé and our baby Charlie) braved the temperamental Manchester weather for a wander around Salford Quays and a trip to the Lowry.

The Lowry

The gallery currently has a Jonathan Yeo exhibition on. I didn’t know much about the British artist before, but was immediately impressed as soon as I was greeted by his large Damien Hirst portrait on entering the gallery.

Celebrities, politicians, fellow artists and loved ones are the subjects of Yeo’s paintings, drawings and studies. A particular favourite was a portrait of George Bush. From afar it looked like a cubist-inspired painting, but on closer inspection we realised it was created with cut outs from top shelf magazines (cue sniggers from us mature art critics…). Titters aside, we couldn’t quite get our heads around how effectively it had been created – definitely worth a look if you’re there.

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The exhibition is until 29 June and you can check out some of Yeo’s work and his subjects on the Lowry’s Flickr page.

Infographic: Social media comparison

A nifty infographic has been doing the rounds online recently, outlining six of the most popular social media channels, their advantages and how they can be used. It was created by Leverage New Age Media, appearing on its blog in December 2013. While it doesn’t go into a huge amount of detail of each channel, it’s a great snapshot for anyone looking for top line information and a basic comparison of Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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TEDx Manchester; something to think about

On Sunday morning I was up bright and early to go to the TEDx Manchester event. There were 16 speakers lined up throughout the day who covered a variety of topics ranging from the importance of creative writing for children to how to make a fortune with stocks and shares.

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For those of you not familiar with TED – it is a not for profit organisation which is “devoted to ideas worth spreading” and stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It was set up 30 years ago and the principle behind TED is to invite experts and professionals from a variety of fields to talk to an audience for 18 minutes or less on their chosen subject. There are some fab TED talks available to watch on the website, and there is also a podcast as well.

TED has evolved over the years and now all over the world there are TEDx groups and events, with the ‘x’ standing for “independently organised”.

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During the morning session which I attended, my favourite speaker was Hannah Mosley; a Manchester tattooist who told us about how an interview she gave to a tabloid journalist was intentionally misconstrued to fit the journalist’s own agenda. The main message behind Hannah’s talk was that we need to remember to have a critical (and cynical) eye and ear when consuming media; why is the person in the story being portrayed in a certain way? How is the journalist trying to make me feel? What are they attempting to make me think?

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While the idea that the media greatly influences what and how we think isn’t a new concept, Hannah’s account of her own experience gave it a fresh feel and reinforced the importance of keeping an open mind and questioning how information is presented to us.

As someone who is trained in journalism and has worked in PR for six years, I like to think I have just the right level of scepticism when it comes to consuming information from the media, but on a regular basis I find myself saying in conversation: “Well I read an article on X, Y and Z and it said such and such, so this means blah blah blah (and also that I’m a five minute expert on a topic I actually know zero about)”. So it was a welcome reminder from Hannah, and an enjoyable 18 minute talk.